David McNeill: Light at the End of the Tunnel in Porto
Our special guest on The Moving Roadmap podcast, powered by Avvinue, is David McNeill. David McNeill is an American that has lived in Japan, Germany, and now Portugal over the last 6 years. He is the founder of Expat Empire, a community dedicated to inspiring people to move abroad and providing them with the knowledge and resources to make it happen.
Transcripts are automatically generated and may not be an 100% accurate transcription.
Nicole (Host): Welcome to the moving roadmap podcast powered by Avvinue. My name is Nicole, and I'll be your host for the show. In this episode, we're excited to introduce our guests, David McNeil, an American that has lived in Japan, Germany, and now Portugal. Over the last six years. He is the founder of “expatempire”, a community dedicated to inspiring people to move abroad and providing them with the knowledge and resources to make it happen.
Welcome to the show, David.
David McNeil: Thanks, Nicole. And very happy to be here.
Nicole (Host): Awesome. So, okay. So we know you're an American and you've lived in multiple countries. Where are you now?
David McNeil: Right now I'm living in the beautiful city of Porto Portugal. I moved here about six months ago. but yes, I have lived in quite a few spots.
It's around the world. I also spent a little bit of time in addition to the places that you mentioned in China for a deployment for one company and in Singapore for a semester of study abroad. So I've definitely made my way around, some interesting places in the world. And I hope to keep doing that.
Nicole (Host): I love it. So, and you know, I've been meaning to go to Porto. I've seen photos, I've seen videos. It's like, Oh, it looks so colorful and beautiful. I've been to Lisbon, but not yet Porto. So very cool that you moved six months ago.
David McNeil: Yeah, it was definitely a dream of mine. I love the city. I mean it was, you know, a job opportunity that came up, of course, I was looking for something new, something different and it really checked the boxes for me. So it made sense. pretty much had a fairly quick turnaround. and then two weeks after arriving started my job. And then two weeks after that signed on for. You know, a longterm apartment and it's just been a process of getting to know the city, getting to know the people, building relationships, friendships, and, you know, getting to try with the wonderful food.
I also live actually in, which is just outside of Porto and, close by the beach. And it's a little bit more quieter, a quiet town. And I like that environment quite a bit. It's, it's definitely a departure from Berlin where I was living before.
Nicole (Host): Okay. Yeah, I was just going to ask, where did you move from?
Okay. So from Berlin to Porto and you're like getting set up so quickly in six months, you're like two weeks and then the next two weeks. So you're moving pretty fast.
David McNeil: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it's been my experience with most of my moves. I guess when I moved to Germany, I had a little bit more time. I negotiated for a little bit of extra, at the beginning to get more acquainted with the city to enjoy the summer a little bit before I started at work.
So that was a little bit longer, but maybe six weeks instead of two weeks. But I feel like most of these things, it takes a while to get set up in terms of leaving your home country or where you were before coming to the new country. And so most employers, as I've moved with jobs, most times are really wanting you to hit the ground running and start working as soon as you get there because the buildup might take a little while.
Nicole (Host): Yeah, absolutely. So what about emotionally? So you were moving from Berlin to Portugal. What, how long did it take you to feel ready to move? Was it just like, you know what, I gotta go now or did you take time to really think, where do I want to end up next?
David McNeil: That's a great question. in my particular case, It was something that probably my wife and I were thinking about for a year prior to the move.
So we had visited Porto and Lisbon, in October of 2018 and we really loved it. We thought this is probably the place that we want to move next. So it was something in the back of our minds. We were trying to figure out how to make that happen and, you know, not to get too much in the details, but basically, I became redundant at my job in Berlin and I found out in April of 2019, and then two months later I finished my work there.
I also got. I'm married to my wife at the same time. So that was a very busy time last year. And, pretty much from that point forward, it was a figuring out it was a process of figuring out where we wanted to move to. I considered a lot of different locations around Europe. I still really had Portugal set in my heart.
And so I kind of hoped that something would, would work out and lo and behold it did. So, once we got the news, I think in September, then it was a process of getting everything wrapped up in Berlin. In terms of selling everything, canceling contracts, all the fun stuff that you have to do before you make the move.
And we, you know, had a goodbye party and pretty much came over, took a, an Airbnb for. One month and yeah, started looking at longterm apartments, started my job, which was a very intense experience in the first week. And then, yeah, I managed to have the longterm place in December and yeah, the rest is history.
So I guess, I mean, honestly it was kind of a long process, I suppose, but, you know, everything fell into place in the end.
Nicole (Host): Yeah, it sounds like it, you know, like once he started getting things, of course, you know, you mentioned like your job was intense at the beginning. Probably you're juggling so many things at the same time and, you know, getting acclimated at work.
So I can definitely see how that would, you know, add an additional layer to the moving process.
David McNeil: Absolutely. I mean, you do whatever you can to prepare as far as thinking of new ideas and the role of what you want to be doing in the first weeks, how to manage the transition. But ultimately no matter how much planning that you do, there's always last minute changes.
There's always some Russians emergency at the very end. So it's the nature of the business of the beast, but that's what you become used to as an expat. I think.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. So tell us a time when you had a challenging experience in coordinating your relocation. I know you've moved to different countries. So what was the challenging aspect?
David McNeil: I mean, I can definitely think of a couple, but one that's most recent is actually getting our visas here in Porto, in Portugal. So, it's been quite a ride. when I first had to get my, basically in January, end of January, I had my appointment. Was all ready to go. Had got gathered all this paperwork across the world.
So, I'm as, as you mentioned, I'm American and I was moving here from Germany. My wife is Japanese, so that's her citizenship. And, there were documents that she needed and that we needed from Japan. So bringing that all together here in Portugal, getting the translations done, getting everything prepared, getting all the documents, you know, checked by our immigration lawyer, which I highly recommend using someone to help you with immigration visas, because there are so many small things that you have to check off and make sure that, you know, you have it right.
And, Anyway. So I made the appointment for January, got there and lo and behold, the system for managing like the computer system, basically for managing the applications at that office exclusively, not, not the rest of the opposites, but just at that office was down from a large storm the previous night.
So that was, yeah, pretty rough news to hear. At the beginning, we went for a coffee as we were waiting for things to. Hopefully, work out and luckily they did. So a couple of hours later, we're running again. And thankfully we had a morning appointment, which had been shifted a couple of hours later, but we were still able to be seen because if we hadn't been able to be seen that day, I would have had to reschedule my appointment.
And then my wife's appointment, who had to do hers after mine in terms of the family reunification visa. So, wow. Yeah, it worked out. but then of course her appointment was at the end of March, which given some of the challenges of the current situation had to be postponed. And, so that's been a challenge over the last couple of months, but thankfully we got a very, very last minute appointments, last week.
And we were able to go the night before on the only bus that's running to the city. Yeah. We had her appointment that, the next evening, and then we made it back. The next day on Thursday, on the only bus coming back to support us. So yeah, it all worked out. I can say it happily now that, six months into living here, thankfully we were both legally, here for the long haul, but yeah, that was definitely something that in the recent past was a challenge that we had to overcome.
Nicole (Host): Wow, easy story, but it's amazing that everything worked out, right? Like even the challenging aspects, you have a positive light or there was. There was a result in the end that, you know, it turned out. Okay.
David McNeil: Absolutely. I mean, that keeps you going and you know, everything, as you look back at, it always ends up being kind of a funny story or an interesting experience or something that helps you grow and build yourself.
So I look at it, I try to look at it that way, obviously, in the midst of it, it can be quite frustrating and challenging and. Maybe you don't see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes, but in the end it can become a fun story, which yeah. I hope that your listeners can enjoy it.
Nicole (Host): Yeah, absolutely. So tell me, what are some things you didn't expect?
And I know of course you probably weren't expecting there to be a storm and the office to be shutting down. but where were some other things, even culturally that you didn't expect to happen during your move?
David McNeil: It's a good question. I've had many different cultural experiences that have been challenging or unexpected over the years.
Definitely. I think one thing that, or, sorry, actually, I'm going to ask a question before I answer this. Do you, do you mean sort of, just in general about the different cultures or specific to my relocation experience?
Nicole (Host): Yeah. To your relocation experience, like, did you, you know, did anything like come out of normal, you know, out of the, just something that shocked you, maybe, maybe it's the way, people worked or the way that they handled certain things.
Was there anything that you were like, Oh, this is different, especially having experience moving in different countries. Was there anything that stood out?
David McNeil: Yeah, sure. Let's see,
No, I actually have a lot of stories. I'm trying to think about what fits best.
So one thing, that's always been a challenge when making a move, especially to a city that has become popular with tourists, popular with expats and just people from around the world, frankly, is finding a place to live. And I know that. Most cities, Berlin included San Francisco included well in many more cities than that, people will tell you, Oh, it's very hard to find the apartments very hard to find an apartment.
And I honestly think that the people who hear that advice and try to move there anyway, are the ones that should be there. And they're the ones that really want to be there. And so, you know, it's the same as somebody telling you. If you want to go to law school? Well, law school is extremely challenging.
It's a difficult career. It's hard to find work, something like that. And the people who actually still go to law school anyway, are the ones that really want to be there. And they're the ones who are probably gonna make it through. So I hear, you know, I feel that if you hear those types of. I have comments about moving to Berlin as an example, you know, it's good that people still go and try to make it work because probably eventually there'll be able to find something, but at the same time, as people have told you that it's very difficult, it is very difficult.
So they're not lying to you. there are some challenges. And so I think just being able to. Internalize that it's going to be difficult. It's going to take more time than you expect. you know, you might have to make some sacrifices around exactly what you want to find in your apartment, or of course, pay a service provider to help you be able to find that apartment, whatever it might be.
You know you can make it get through, don't let it hold you back. But at the same time, recognize that they're telling you that to help you out, not just to scare you, you know, it's, you know, there can be some truth to what they're saying. So come in with those expectations and hopefully you'll have a good experience with it overall, but, don't be surprised if it takes longer than you expect, or it's more difficult in ways that you don't expect.
Nicole (Host): Definitely great tips on that. you know, cause so many people who are listening are planning their move abroad and they've been dreaming about it or, you know, it's something that they've wanted to do for so long. So just knowing if you push through, you can make it happen. Just understand the realities, not just the dream view of moving abroad, which I think is very much portrayed on social media or YouTube and blogs that it's going to be the most beautiful journey.
It may be a rugged trip to get where you want, but in the end, you'll see that it's really worth it. Absolutely.
David McNeil: And I think, you know, as you said, the people. who, who pushed through make it happen? Who deals with those challenges and struggles? They're the ones that are probably going to ultimately benefit the most in the end anyway, from showing themselves and others that they're able to get through these tough situations, to be able to have those amazing experiences, but also playing off of what you said.
I think it's important for people to have an eye toward the reality of what it's like to live somewhere versus what you see it as in your mind. it's difficult to do that from the outside. Don't get me wrong. But. As opposed to thinking about the fantasy of, you know, going to a lot of beautiful cafes or going to the movies or, walking along the nice beach or waterfront area, which is an important part of your experience as well.
It's really thinking about what does it like to live here? What type of work am I going to have to do? you know, do I get it, do I fit well with the culture? Do I think I'm gonna be able to find some good friends and build a network here? There are so many other questions that ultimately have more impact in your day to day life, your enjoyment, what you're able to do that.
I think you really have to have that focus as opposed to only being in this sort of fantasy land of, of, you know, Looking at, Hey, I'm going to be able to get all these museums. which of course will be a nice thing to do on the weekend. But what about the rest of the week? If you know what I mean? Yeah,
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. And building a community as part of that, I know you mentioned earlier, like you moving to Porto and you know, you hit the ground running with getting everything ready, but then also now. You know, building out your, your own personal community is really going to help transition from that holiday view, and your move to the more realistic this is my life, this is where I live, so be part of the community, So.
David McNeil: A hundred percent. Yeah. And you know, for me, it's always using things like meetup.com to be able to find events to go to. And I actually started to meet up for expat empire here in Porto. And so it was a great opportunity for me not to just find more friends, ultimately lean and be able to connect with a lot of people and build my network, but also be able to.
David McNeil: Tell people a little bit more about what expert empires about and just to have it be sort of an interesting connection to that part of my life with also making, a network, and friendships here in the city. So this doesn't mean that everyone out there has to start their own meetup. Don't get me wrong.
That's a big step, but at the same time, you know, there's lots of groups. There's Facebook groups for expats. somebody has just organized an event later this week for people that are new to the city. So maybe I'll pop into that. there's online events as well. Of course, it's nice to meet people in person as you can, but, yeah, there's plenty of opportunities, of course, people that you work with, you know, maybe, you know, somebody from university from high school that was actually from that city or country and they can point you in the right direction.
So you can also just put something out on social media and see what comes back. But, yeah, there's a lot of opportunities, but it is, it's something that takes a long time. And I usually, it's hard, even for me to accept it now that I'm six months in, but it usually takes about a year to really get fully situated.
At least as far as my experience in Germany and Japan.
Nicole (Host): Hmm, love that. So if you're in Porto or you're planning to go there, definitely check out the expo empire meetup group. So are you putting on some nice events there? so now looking back, you're six months in, but you've moved abroad several times.
What would you have done differently in planning your move?
David McNeil: So I think that there's probably two things that come to mind first is do not try to bring all of your stuff when you move. I never did that. I always tried to bring few things, a few things relative, relative to how many things I had before I moved.
But. At the same time. I think I, you know, there were times where I probably brought stuff that I didn't need to, or I could have sold it or donated it or sent it to my parents before I left the US for them to hold on to until maybe I get back someday, but maybe not. so you know, there there's very little, I think that you need outside of, I don't know, your prized possessions, your clothes.
Just the most basic stuff. I mean, you don't have to bring a bunch of books or coat hangers because you're going to be able to buy those and the new place that you're going to be able to live. And. I would just say go light, you know, take, take a few things that are important to you and the rest of it.
You can just, buy, on the ground, you can even go to flea markets. you can look on different groups on Facebook or other social media platforms to be able to find people that are selling their furniture, or you might even find a furnished flat. So you wouldn't get all of that stuff anyway. And it's very expensive to ship things.
Can take quite a while, especially when I moved from the US to Japan, one of the options was to send it by sea, which would have taken a couple of months. I think if I remember correctly. So I basically did it by air, which was more expensive, but much faster and brought less things than maybe I would have if I had a lot more space to take on a, on a big ship.
So that's one thing and I think the other one is, as I mentioned before, I think it's really worth the money too. And just the freedom, the lack of headaches that come with purchasing. How do you say services for helping with your visa and immigration problems? Because, you know, I mean, not only did I have all of those issues here in Porto, as an example, That I mentioned earlier, but on top of that, just knowing the exact documentation, how it needed to be delivered in terms of the translation, does it need to be notarized? Is this the right document?
Then we also went to two different offices. One of those offices had a scanner, so we didn't have to bring copies, but the other or office did not have a scanner. Of course, we wouldn't have known that. and so we had to bring copies of ourselves and it's just these types of small things.
Let alone the language barrier. which isn't too bad here in Portugal, but still most of these government offices, employees are not native speakers of English as an issue. all of that stuff, I think, yeah, at first, every first-time expat basically thinks that they can do it themselves and it's going to be no problem.
And I got this thing. And it may work out, but it will probably be a lot more difficult and time-consuming and challenging than you might expect it to at the outset. So getting somebody there to help you along the way and make sure there's no issues or errors, I think is invaluable.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely completely agree.
You know, a lot of people, they go on Facebook groups, they ask questions and they hear from others, but it's not the same and getting personal attention and advice for your specific case. You know, in order to coordinate and figure out what documentation is needed. It's nice to get people's feedback and suggestions on, you know, what they've done.
I mean, that's a beautiful opportunity, but at the same time, having someone professional to organize exactly what you need for your move is really. It's really important.
David McNeil: Definitely. And you know, as an example, when I moved to Germany, I did not know the different types of visas there. And I was able to get the EU blue card, which is basically kind of like an American green card to an extent.
And it also allows you to work toward permanent residence, which takes five years in most of those countries, but across countries in the European Union, or at least that participate in this program. So I was able to get that, of course, I had help at that time from my employer, but without their help and a lot of other expresses that I knew did not go with the blue card, which has other benefits as well, just because they didn't know about it.
They, they could have applied for it, but they just went for normal work FISA as most people do. You have to meet certain criteria and requirements for the blue card, but that's something that. It is really valuable and can save you. Okay. A couple of years needing to work toward permanent residence in Germany, in particular, it takes about three years five.
So yeah, those types of things are, are super helpful and being able to understand, and yeah, of course navigate some of the most difficult and time-consuming bureaucracy that you'll have to deal with as an expert.
Nicole (Host): Oh, yes, I understand that. so what advice would you give to someone who's listening and is considering to move abroad?
David McNeil: Well, I would absolutely 100% say take the leap. I mean, I'm glad that I convinced myself that I knew that this is what I wanted to do to live abroad and. Really make it work. no matter what the costs or challenges were. And I think that as I've experienced it over the last years and gone to different countries in different parts of the world, you start to see of course some similarities.
So you understand some of the cultural differences as well, but more importantly now I ha I just generally have a sense of what I need to do to be able to get. To the next country. If there is one, hopefully we're here in Portugal for quite a while, but I have an understanding as well of what type of places that I want to live in.
And that can be anywhere in the world. Even if I move back to the US someday, now I have a better. View as to what type of places that I want to be in. And based on being in Porto, maybe that's closer to the beach as opposed to the massive cities that I've lived in before, like San Francisco and Tokyo and Berlin.
So I think you learn a ton about yourself. You can get some great new professional opportunities potentially as well. And I really feel so strongly about this, that that's why I created expert empire. I saw. That there's a lot of different information around the web. some of it helpful, a lot of it, not a lot of outdated.
And on top of that, you know, maybe people, I believe people might just need a little bit of a push or an inspiration or the way that they can figure out how they can do it because of the surface. initial impression is that it's so difficult. It's so challenging. It's so Paik, that. How could I make this happen?
How could I find the right opportunity? How could I get my stuff together? How could I move it? Could I find the apartment, make friends, get the right visa, the right documentation, and really build my career somewhere else. And so. Yeah, my goal is basically to show that it's entirely possible. Many, many people do it.
They've done it all different ways. They've started their own businesses. They've for employers in their home country and the new country. They found new jobs, whatever it might be and to be able to provide those. You know, insights and resources to people that just need that little extra push. And as far as it relates to specifically to the relocation process, I mean, if you have a couple thousand Euro, which I'm not saying is a small amount of money, you know, I was fortunate to have that at the time.
Then you can kind of pay for services to get rid of a lot of these problems and a number of things you can do yourself as well. I mean, of course, putting in the time to, to network to find that right apartment, to look in the right places, to be diligent, to be on top of it. that'll, that'll also take you very far, but.
You know, especially if you could find an employer that's willing to help, you know, always, always ask if there's a relocation policy or plan because yeah, a few times now it was never in the original offer, but they sort of were waiting for people to ask about it and then they would say, Oh yeah, actually we do have that.
So you never know, it's better to ask.
David McNeil: It's a hundred percent better to ask. And I, you know, in general, I go into every job with. Thinking that what I got offered at the beginning is what I'll be making. All right. Leave. Just so that, you know, I'm honest about my earning potential there and also, yeah, it's absolutely better to ask.
And you're in the most position of leverage during the initial negotiation process, rather than waiting until you're already there and a full-time employee, to try to, you know, use, use some leverage. So I think it's better to be honest with yourself and with them upfront about your expectations and needs.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. Great advice. I love how you started off and said take the leap.
David McNeil: Yeah, I think, I think, you know, if I can do anything just to reinforce that to, to give people some. I don't know some, some hope or some idea of some inspiration and, and the knowhow and the willpower to make it happen, then, I can, I can be very happy that my experience can help other people as well.
So I'm sure Avvinue can bring the same in terms of that relocation experience.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. All right. So I'm going to wrap up with a random question. Where's the best city you visited.
David McNeil: That I visited. Let's see. Well, I've been to, I mean, I've been to quite a few. I've been to 60 countries almost.
Nicole (Host): Yeah, and now we narrowed it down to the city, not the country.
David McNeil: Yeah. That's even harder, so I would say honestly, one of the, one of the places I have the best memories of in terms of a specific city was, Well, it was Florence, I guess, and Italy, and mostly just because of course, incredible food, amazing pizza, some of the best I've ever had in my life.
Yeah. Incredible museums and, you know, the statue of David and all of this. Unbelievable stuff. So I can't wait to like, get a chance to go back there again, because, even among a 20, I think it was a 20 city trip that I took in between jobs in 2014, across most of Western Europe. That was one of the few cities that really stuck out that sort of Porto, which I'm glad that I'm living in now, but yeah, definitely.
That's up there. If anyone gets a chance to go.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely, love Florence. One of my friends from college lives there, and it was the first trip that I planned and a beautiful romantic city. it's it's magical. All right. So how can our listeners find you on social?
David McNeil: Yeah. So I think, I mean, you can search for me on, just my name, David McNeil on LinkedIn, on Facebook in terms of “expatempire”.
We also have a Facebook page and I would also recommend if you're interested in podcasts, just to check out the “expatempire” podcast, which basically is me talking to a lot of different. expats whether future past, you know, about their experiences, how they made it happen and to give some insights into living in different countries and the challenges there.
And so, you can check “expatempire” podcast on any of your favorite podcasting apps.
Nicole (Host): Wonderful. Thank you so much, David, for being on the show. It's been amazing hearing about your journey and your move to several countries and landing now in Portugal. So thank you so much, David.
David McNeil: Thank you very much, Nicole. Have a great day.